Murray Energy Corp. is best known in southeastern Ohio for its three independent operating subsidiaries: The Ohio Valley Coal Co. in Alledonia; OhioAmerican Energy Inc. in Brilliant; and American Energy Corp. in Beallsville. Combined, these three companies and the mines they operate employ 1,326 Ohioans and produce 14 million tons of coal annually.
Although many local residents likely know someone employed by Murray Energy and its subsidiaries, few may realize these jobs are the result of determined visionary and Belmont native Robert E. Murray. The son of a coal miner who became paralyzed when Murray was only 9, Bob Murray worked to support his family and developed an entrepreneurial drive early in life, a drive that today supports thousands of families.
That vision began with a single mine, the Powhatan No. 6 Mine in Alledonia, which was on the verge of closing when Bob Murray purchased it in 1988. Saving nearly 300 existing jobs at the mine, he soon added 200 more. The Century Mine, which Murray developed in 2000 - the turn of the century - brought 550 additional jobs to the area, jobs the mine continues to maintain.
Members of the American Energy Corp.’s Century Mine rescue team with the trophy for winning Ohio’s Second Annual Mine Safety Competition are, from left, Seth Frazier, Mike Lodi, Dan Panepucci, Ernie VanDyne, Mike Pickens, team captain Ryan Muldrew, David Adams and Rick Wilson. The American Energy Corp. is an independent operating subsidiary of Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp., whose teams have won the competition each of the two years it has been staged.
A similar story can be told at the RedBird West mine, operated by Murray independent operating subsidiary OhioAmerican Energy, where nothing at all existed - no mine, no jobs - until Murray Energy began developing both.
As the company's operations grew, so too did the need for infrastructure to move the massive amounts of energy resources the mines produced. To meet that need, and the demands of an ever-growing customer base, the company developed a barge transloading facility on the Ohio River at Powhatan Point, as well as a maintenance shop in Wheeling.
In 2009, even as the economy was shedding jobs at a record pace, Murray opened a new subsidiary in Illinois and created more than 100 new jobs. The new company, American Equipment and Machine Inc., will rebuild and manufacture longwall equipment for all of Murray Energy's mining operations.
"I am extremely proud of what my father has accomplished," says Rob Murray, Murray Energy vice president, business development and external affairs and Bob Murray's son. "He invested in economically challenged areas and built an amazingly vital and efficient operation that today not only supports thousands of jobs and provides millions of dollars in revenue to local communities, but also keeps energy in the United States affordable."
Murray Energy's independent operating subsidiaries also operate large mines in Illinois, Kentucky and Utah. When the output of these mines is added to those in Ohio, Murray Energy produces approximately 28 million tons of coal a year, making it the largest independent coal mining company in the nation.
And the company's economic impact goes well beyond the coal it produces and the jobs it provides. A study by Pennsylvania State University has found that each direct coal mining job creates up to 11 secondary jobs in related industries. With a total of 3,024 employees company-wide, Murray Energy and its subsidiaries support nearly 15,000 jobs in Ohio and more than 33,000 jobs nationwide.
COAL UNDER ASSAULT
It is no secret that coal is increasingly under attack from environmentalists, some media and now politicians in Washington, many under the wing of the new administration.
Environmentalists have redoubled efforts to ban coal-fired power plants, while working to perpetuate the belief that climate change is a direct result of the fossil fuels Americans depend on to keep energy affordable.
Although science has yet to prove that climate change is manmade, Rob Murray worries that a manmade spike in the cost of energy - which would almost certainly result from the climate change legislation - will wreak further havoc across the economy, leading to the export of jobs to countries where lower energy costs will allow American businesses to remain competitive.
"Higher costs would be a huge blow to businesses that rely on affordable energy to keep their costs down so their products can be competitive in the global marketplace," he says.
Coal, which provides approximately 52 percent of our nation's electricity - and more than 85 percent of the electricity in the Tri-State Area - is the primary reason that U.S. energy costs have remained affordable for so long.
As a purely domestic energy resource, coal supplies and costs are not subject to the whims of foreign governments. It is also our nation's most abundant energy resource, with a 200-plus year supply still to be mined within our borders. Accordingly, Murray believes coal is essential to our nation's energy independence and national security.
"Our company name is not Murray Coal, it's Murray Energy," he says. "Our business is the extraction of energy from the Earth - the most affordable and reliable type of American energy - to power our homes, businesses and communities."
In addition, the younger Murray says, coal-fired electricity generation technology has made tremendous advances; today's modern coal power plants create more energy using less coal and with lower emissions than ever before.
"Clearly, investing in research and technology has had significant and positive results. Coal plant emissions have dropped by more than half while coal-fired generation has tripled since 1970," he says.
EMPLOYEE SAFETY THE FOREMOST CONCERN
Murray says advances in technology have changed coal mining as well, especially in the area of safety, an area his father has always believed is an absolute priority.
"We have computer terminals set up in the mines to monitor and control air quality and oxygen levels, and manage fire suppression systems. We can track the location of all of our miners throughout the mine and even operate machines remotely," he says. "The ability to monitor mine conditions and take action to correct problems immediately means our mines are safer and our workers are safer."
Computers also have had a substantial impact on production, aiding in detecting and mapping coal reserves, modeling mine development and projecting production. But Murray emphasizes his father's belief that safety and productivity are never an "either-or" proposition.
"It is well documented that, statistically, the most productive coal mines in American are also among the safest, and vice versa," he says.
But inasmuch as technology enhances safety, Murray says it is no substitute for workers who are well-trained in safety procedures and who know what to do in an emergency. The company maintains emergency mine rescue teams and fire brigades at all of its mines and sponsors numerous safety training programs throughout the year.
"Our rescue and fire teams are the best in the business," Murray says proudly. "The members of the all-volunteer mine rescue teams and fire brigades are trained to be first responders in a mine emergency, and those members take that responsibility very seriously because they know that their actions could save the lives of their fellow miners they wear it as a badge of honor."
In fact, the mine rescue teams from the Ohio Valley Coal Co. and American Energy Corp. took first and second place, respectively, in the Ohio's first-ever mine rescue competition in 2008, and the American Energy Corp. took first place in the 2009 contest.
COAL: AN ECONOMIC BENEFIT
As a private, independent company, Murray Energy focuses all of its attention on the development of its energy markets and reserves and on building and maintaining a top-notch work force. The company is proud of its relationship with its employees and seeks to maintain a level of mutual trust and respect that are rare today.
"We feel very good about being able to provide so many outstanding jobs, and we believe we have many responsibilities to the miners we employ," Murray says, echoing a frequent sentiment of his father.
Even as coal may come under attack, Murray Energy Corp. remains committed to seeing that this vital energy resource continues to support jobs, economy and the nation's energy security, while embracing the technological advances and trained work force that help the company safely produce 28 million tons of coal annually.
"Coal provides affordable energy and coal provides jobs," says Murray. "My father has built a company that provides an important economic stimulus on its own by producing an abundant and affordable source of domestic energy that is essential to maintain American businesses and factories, our quality of life and our national security."